Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Giveaway and Six Years of Pretty Little Rough Patches

Six-Year Blog Anniversary Giveaway  ~  Click to enlarge pic.
This month marks six years that I've been writing here.  It was only a mere six months ago, though, that I made the blog public and findable by online search engines.  I Struggle with Shyness:  A post for another day.  :)  It was especially fun and rewarding this past fall and early winter, then, to find comments from new readers in my email inbox--I have all comments emailed to me--and to notice each time another person had found the blog and hit the "Follow" button.  When I learned that big-hearted at Vicki over at 2 Bags Full would be hosting an online blog party today, right before my blogging anniversary, to express her thanks for what blogging has brought into her own life and to help other bloggers meet, I asked to be added to the virtual guest list.  Blogging, even if I've done it quietly and kind of under-the-radar for so many years, has been a sweet thing in my life too, and I share her appreciation of it.  Thank you to Vicki   and welcome to everyone who's visiting here via her party.  :) 

You know how people joke about visiting someone only to have to sit through his/her slide shows of vacations, pets, and family outings?  I'm a person who is thrilled by such things.  Tell me about your best friend from elementary school, your best friend now, the first person who broke your heart, the work you do and the work you want to do, the language you'd love to learn and the lesson you need to learn, the last movie you loved and didn't want to end and the last book you hated too much to finish, the flowers that most remind you of your grandmother, the birthday cake you always bake or buy for your wife, your funniest memory of your grandfather, the dress you'll save forever because you once had a perfect day wearing it, those songs that take you back to high school, that one dog who was your Best Dog EVER, the craziest neighbors you've ever had, and the kindness a stranger showed you the day your child died.  Give me your tired, your poor, your fridges covered in magnet-held family pictures and your scrapbooks bursting open with saved mementos. . . .   Where did you find the piece of driftwood shaped like a seal?!  I love it.    Is that photo you and your sister when you were kids?!    Oh!  Your dog by the fireplace Christmas morning!  Look at his FACE!    Is that sketch of the house that you told me about?    That has to be your mom's photo above your chair--You look just like her.    My seventh-grade English teacher always had us spend one class period a week writing journal entries that we would hand in to her to read.  She said that we could write about absolutely anything and that that there was really nothing she didn't think was interesting.  I remember thinking, when I heard her say that, "Well, yeah, I'm the same way."  I hadn't known it until she articulated it, so that realization stuck in my memory.  And now I live in the Age of the Internet and get to see your slide shows and hear your stories this way, and every day, I find someone--and something--else that interests me.  And I love that. 
To celebrate six years here and to thank you for following along, I'm hosting my first-ever giveaway.  Everything (but my beloved old green check tablecloth) in this post's photos will be packed-up and shipped to the winner after I draw his/her name February 1st.  I had fun shopping for all the prizes and love putting care packages together, so this has already added some fun to my own week.     

The winner will receive: 
  • Real Simple magazine's hardcover book Celebrations:  Easy Entertaining for Every Occasion, a big book that's full of ideas for gifts, meals, parties, invitations, and just thoughtful ways to make "everydays" into holidays and "special" occasions even more special
  • one of my favorite books, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  ~  If you've read it, you know what a treasure it is, and if you haven't, I envy you the fact that you still have your first reading of it ahead of you.  Follow Francie as she grows from an eleven-year-old girl to a post-high school young woman.  I love this girl and her story.  
  • the "love issue" of Sandra Lee's magazine, filled with recipes, tablescape and party ideas, Valentine-ey thoughts, and the most beautiful photos  ~  Her magazine is always a feast for the eyes and heart.
  • a little book of 23 friendship-related stickers 
  • 20 paper napkins covered in cupcakes-decorated-with-hearts
  • 8 heart paper plates, also perfect for either Valentine's Day or any day
  • 48 pink and red floral die-cut cupcake wrappers
  • 4 packets of hot chocolate, each a different flavor
  • 3 thinking-of-you-type cards with envelopes 
  • 3 Valentine cards with envelopes 
  • and 2 red-ink pens because, as some of you guys already know, I add red hearts to almost every piece of personal mail I send.  It's not just a "blog-thing."    :)
To see larger versions of the photos here, just click on them.  A reader mentioned the other day that it would be helpful if my blog's photos were bigger, but when I post extra-large versions of photos with this blog design/layout, their sides get cut off a little bit--and I really love this design/layout.  (I tried, Jenny!)
To enter, just leave a comment on this post--and please make sure that either your comment or profile gives me a way to contact you if you should win.  Any comment with a date of January19th-January 31st will count, and I'll randomly choose a name and announce the winner here on February 1st.  You don't need to "follow" to enter.  I hope you'll follow if you want to, though, of course.  :)
Good luck!  And a truly warm welcome to you new readers and an equally-heartfelt thank you to those who have been with me either from my very first post in 2007 or since earlier this week.  I've loved sharing the past six years here.  Keep telling your own stories.  Make time for your friends.  Finish and mail the letter you keep meaning to write.  Offer a piece of gum to the person sharing the elevator with you.  Keep putting yourself out there.  Say thank you.  And remember that even when it's rough, life is good and beautiful and worth the effort.  Ride it out.  Find the silver lining.  Go hug your cat. 
xox, Val

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Patchwork Cupboards Project

One of my favorite little projects in our new apartment (or new-to-us-since-summer-2011, but it's still so much a work-in-progress that I'll think of it as our "new" apartment awhile longer) has been dolling up the two small cupboards we use for dish storage. The cupboards mark the entry to our tiny kitchen, and I wanted them to pop with color.

This is what the cupboards looked like when we moved in:
For the first six months or so, I left the cupboards "bare" so that the dishes were visible in each of the wood-framed panes, thinking that since our dishes are all pretty colorful and since I had lined the cupboards' inner shelves with green contact paper, the effect would be pretty, but instead, we could only see the dishes that were right along the front of the shelves and it just didn't thrill me.  Next I attached just big rectangles of pink strawberry-themed oilcloth behind the cupboards' doors so that every pane of both cupboards showed the pink strawberry print.  "Blah!" to that too, but I lived with it until I figured out what I wanted to do.  And the answer should have been obvious to "Pretty Little Rough Patches" herself, of course, but it took another few months for me to think of it:  I finally used a bunch of different colors and patterns of oilcloth to create patchwork cupboards. 
I had already had the green and blue ginghams and the pink strawberry oilcloths, so I looked on etsy for a few more prints, hoping to find a sample/lot-style listing so as not to have to pay separately for a bunch of pieces, and the ModernJune shop came through:  For only two dollars, I got a wide variety (of my choosing) of colors and patterns for my project:  Pink roses on white, yellow gingham, red cherries on yellow, pink and white polka dot, yellow orchids on black, red gingham, dahlias on orange. . . .Awesome variety at a great price. 
I attached each piece of oilcloth to the back of the wood frames with little dabs of hot glue.  I tested a corner a small scrap of oilcloth first to make sure it wouldn't damage the wood, and it peeled right off after it had dried, so no worries.  After an hour or so of arranging, cutting, and hot gluing, I had finally finished the cupboard project, shaking my head at myself the whole time as I wondered this hadn't been the obvious choice all along. 
The small two-tiered shelf on top of the cupboard at left had been a happy three-dollar Goodwill find in 2010, and I recently finished redoing it too.  When we moved here, I decided to keep it on the kitchen counter and sawed off half of the top shelf to make it fit around the window, but then I realized the cupboard door above it wouln't open if we stored things on the top shelf.  Measure twice, cut once.  :)  I moved it to the top of one of the now-patchwork cupboards and covered the front, back, and right side with green gingham oilcloth and the left side with black gingham oilcloth.  It now holds a few flowers and cookbooks.  The space left by having sawed off part of the top shelf perfectly fits my beloved vintage Daffodil vase (another great Goodwill find) too, so it all worked out.  

I still need to find artwork for the side of the cupboard at left, opposite the die-cut coffee, iced tea, and chocolate milk (the three things Mike and I drink the most) signs, and I want one more drink-themed sign (and have one in-mind) for the open space under the milk and tea ones, but that's piddly.  That, then, at long last, concludes the Patchwork Cupboards Project. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Pink Christmas (and Rose-Colored Glasses)

Between Mike's and my sidewalk run-in with a thug who seemed to be looking for a fight December 22nd, a hacker's theft from my checking account Christmas Eve and the ongoing hassle that that's caused, a round of food poisoning for me beginning December 29th, and a stomach bug for Mike that started New Year's night, the past two weeks with their combination of anxiety, illness, and lack of money have made our humble little apartment seem even more of a safe haven than usual.  "Nothing can bring a real sense of security into the home except true love," Billy Graham believes, and I nod my head in agreement as I type his words here.  I believe that true love, in whatever form it takes, blesses everyone and everything in its path.  It bettered our holidays, and it brightens our "everydays," and it is always bigger than our troubles and troublemakers.  "What are we gonna live on this coming week?" Olivia Walton anxiously asks her husband in The Homecoming (one of my all-time favorite movies, any time of year) after he's spent his final paycheck on Christmas presents.  "Love, Woman," he replies, cradling her face with his work-worn hands, making my spirit soar every time.  John Walton is wise.  And after a holiday season that's tested peace-on-earth-and-goodwill-toward-men for so many around the world, it is a blessing to start this second week of January still believing in the power of goodness and love. 

This Christmas, our second together, Mike and I shared our now-traditional Christmas breakfast of cinnamon rolls and egg casserole and took special refuge in all the simple joys of home.  The pink and white church was a gift from Aunt Laurie this year.  The miniature pink tree was from my friend Madai last Christmas, and the snowflake tablecloth is a treasure from my younger brother.  The vintage pink house, cream tree candles, small cream bottlebrush tree, and pink reindeer were all from my mom.  
Mike and I opened our presents from family then ate breakfast before opening our gifts from each other.  I made the cinnamon rolls and Mike made the egg casserole this year. 
The tiny pink cupcake ornaments came in a surprise package from my aunt Heidi this year, and the gorgeous pink snowflake cookie ornament was one of my favorite gifts this Christmas.  Mom gave it to me early when I visited the weekend of December 21st.  Love, love, love. 
Pink and pink gingham always make me happy and just seemed right for this Christmas morning.  Last year's breakfast table was aqua, and it was pretty, but I think I just needed the extra warmth of pink this time around.  The cinnamon rolls saw a generous sprinkling of pink sparkling sugar and Mike's mom's recipe of buttercream frosting.  
The pink quilted gingerbread mug and pink-rimmed dinner plates were Goodwill finds.  I had had a similarly sweet mug set out for Mike's coffee Christmas morning but knew he'd rather use his usual navy blue one, so I switched them.  That sounds trivial, but I had told Mike a few days before Christmas--the night of our encounter with the Sidewalk Thug, actually--that I don't want us to be a couple that argues over stupid things.  Every couple does, I know, but as I told him, I just want us to get into the habit of shaking off dumb little things and not wasting time or energy fighting about them.  If he wants a navy coffee mug instead of the prettier cream-colored one:  Who cares.  It's our Christmas morning and a breakfast together, not a photo shoot.  I wanted hash brown-style potatoes in the breakfast casserole; he did not.  If he was the one making it, who was I to argue?!  The years I make it, I'll add potatoes, and the years he makes it, he can skip them:  Big deal.  We are blessed to have whatever time we have with our loved ones.  Let's not waste it.   FlowerLady, if you're reading this, please know that remembering you and your dear husband is what really made this click for me this Christmas.    I've only been married a year and a half, and it is always surprising to me that just as it is easier sometimes to be good and kind to strangers and acquaintances than to one's own family, it is also easy to find myself treating others more gently than I do my own husband.  My senseless complaints about the breakfast casserole--a dish that my husband had kindly and even enthusiastically offered to make for our Christmas--made me ashamed of myself.  Hearing myself harping about hash browns and then remembering sweet Lorraine and Sandra and others who would happily eat glass if it meant getting to share a morning with their husbands again. . . .My goodness.  I knew better, so why wasn't I acting like it?  Navy blue mugs and potato-free casseroles:  Fine and good. 
We watched the Christmas Story movie while we ate.  Both the cinnamon rolls and egg casserole were wonderful.  The almost-bare wall around the hutch and tv is one of the new year's projects.  We have an ever-growing collection of posters and photos of artists, writers, actors, musicians, athletes, thinkers, and people-in-general who inspire us, and once our frame-buying has caught up with our art-acquiring, the wall will sport more than Mike's Yankees baseball pennants.  :)
Although we had a nice Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner too, it is our Christmas breakfast that has become my favorite part of the holiday now that I'm married.  This year's found us more appreciative of the safe haven we enjoy in our home and in each other, and it saw me become at least that much better of a wife.  Fine gifts, indeed.  And love will save the day.